HARTFORD, Conn. – Dozens of demonstrators, some of them chained to each other or to barrels filled with sand, blocked the entrance to a federal courthouse Friday in support of an immigrant from Ecuador who has been living in a church for a year to avoid deportation.
Organizers say the crowd at one point reached 280 people, who demanded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has an office in the building, stay the deportation order for Nelson Pinos, 44, and allow him to return home to his family. Protesters sang songs and chanted "Bring Nelson home."
Pinos sought sanctuary in a New Haven church after he was ordered to leave the U.S. a few weeks before Christmas last year. A New Haven resident, he has been living in the U.S. illegally since 1992. He is married and the father of three children who are U.S. citizens.
Immigration officials recently denied Pinos' request for a stay of his removal order with little explanation, his friends said.
Demonstrators left the federal building without incident after about four hours and marched down the street to City Hall for a brief rally. No arrests were reported.
ICE officials were aware of the protest and confirmed Pinos' request for a stay was denied, spokesman John Mohan said. He declined further comment and referred to an earlier statement by the agency.
"Nelson Pinos-Gonzalez, a citizen of Ecuador, remains an immigration fugitive who is evading immigration enforcement at a site categorized by ICE as a sensitive location," the statement said. "Evading immigration enforcement does not void ICE's authority to enforce a final order of removal. The removal order against Mr. Pinos-Gonzalez remains in effect."
Pinos' supporters said the rally marked the one-year anniversary of Pinos moving into the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church. They said his situation has caused psychological harm to his children.
"The amount of suffering this family is going through is cruel and inhumane," said Pinos' friend Jesus Morales Sanchez, 24, of New Haven, who was chained to another protester and a sand barrel.
"This is upsetting. This is deeply offensive," he said. "We're here because we're furious. We want justice for Nelson. We want him to go home this Christmas. We want him to be where he belongs — in his house, being a fantastic father for his three children."
Rosario Caicedo, one of the rally's organizers, said the protest also was about "the terrible deportation policies of this administration."